Editorial: Reviewing the Task Force report

We decided to review the report after concerns around its accuracy were brought to our attention.

Editor’s note: there is a substantial correction for this article. We are choosing to leave the original body of text for the sake of transparency – not as an endorsement of the inaccuracies. The correction can be found at the bottom of this page.

The renaming process at the University of Minnesota has been a long, contentious and oftentimes confusing affair. We at the Minnesota Daily have struggled to grapple with the integrity of the University and its complex histories, as we believe many students and faculty have also. 

The prevailing opinions of students and faculty on campus have been at odds with University administrators who have been working without guidelines to make informed decisions that leave a lasting mark on this University. It was hard to understand why so many people in leadership positions seemed to hold opinions that were opposite to what students wanted — and what seemed right. 

After an attempt to better understand this position, it was brought to our attention that some of the research that went into the Task Force Report on Renaming Buildings was questionable. 

We took it upon ourselves to review the entirety of the report, as well as each of its cited sources and documents. Below we will detail findings we found troubling and contrary to claims made in the Task Force Report. Our intention is not to dismiss the entire report. Instead, we seek to further contribute to the renaming conversations. No one on the Daily’s Editorial Board is a trained historian. We are journalists with a responsibility to check facts.

On page 52 of the report, the task force discusses Dean Nicholson being “incensed” by the appointment of Elmer Austin Benson, a Jewish man, to the Board of Regents. There is little evidence of that in the letter cited. In the letter, Nicholson discusses the ways in which they ought to avoid the Regents being subject to party politics.

On page 105 of the report, the task force details efforts to encourage black students to find off-campus housing instead of being permitted in dorms. However, in citation 280, the task force points out that several African American women had lived in the dorms. It also notes that Walter Coffey encouraged William Middlebrook to allow the women to live in the dorms.

On page 49 of the report, the task force explains the experience of some Jewish women in the dental hygiene program being asked to “leave the program.” Upon reviewing the document, University officials at that time made it clear that these women were not only permitted to continue the program, but that they encouraged them to do so. However, the University did warn the women about possible obstacles to being employed — which is a matter separate from the University.

On page 51 of the report, the task force outlines the “political alliance” between Nicholson and Ray Chase, which they describe as being rooted in racism and anti-Semitism. They assert that Chase and Nicholson worked together to expose “aliens” and “radicals” on campus, who were often Jewish students. However, the citation used for that paragraph is a letter from Cornell University discussing an entirely different matter that mentions neither Chase nor Nicholson.

We encourage the University to have the report checked by third-party historians for its objectivity and accuracy. We want to acknowledge the tough burden that was put on faculty who conducted the research and wrote the report. We found some concerning discrepancies in our review. We hope to encourage a longer conversation on renaming and the histories of these figures. 

Correction:

A previous clarification to this article described citations relating to page 52 of the task force report. This editorial does not reflect the task force’s immense amount of detailed work and the problematic history of the University. As stated in the editorial, we are not historians. The above findings reflect only the editorial board’s interpretation of the report.

The editorial board made the decision to write this article after speaking with University Regent Darrin Rosha, who has been vocal about his concerns with citations in the task force report. The editorial board did not consult members of the task force about the citations or their conclusions about them. 

Page 52: The original article incorrectly stated that Nicholson was “incensed” at Elmer Austin Benson’s appointment to the University’s Board of Regents. According to the task force report and Berman’s article, Nicholson was “incensed” at George B. Leonard, a Jewish Minnesotan, being appoint to the Board of Regents. 

The original article also incorrectly interpreted the citation used to support Nicholson being “incensed” by Leonard’s appointment to the Board. Hyman Berman, a historian, came to the conclusion that Nicholson was “incensed” by Leonard’s appointment based on separate archives, according to citation 38 of Berman’s article titled “Political Antisemitism in Minnesota during the Great Depression.” Berman’s article is used in citation 119 of the task force report. The original editorial only took citation 118 into account.

Page 105: While several African American women lived in the dorms, that does not mean that segregation did not take place in dorms at the University of Minnesota. The atmosphere around African American women in the dorms was not welcoming. 

Page 49: The original article incorrectly states that students’ obstacles to employment were a separate matter from their studies at the University. Warning Jewish women about possible obstacles to being employed was related to their time as students at the University, because it related to their decisions to continue studying or not.

Page 51: The original article incorrectly states that the task force report did not include a citation for the “political alliance” described between Dean Nicholson and Ray Chase. The “political alliance” between Nicholson and Chase is cited in citations 111,  112 and 113 of the report. Citation 114 is contextually related to the situation and was not the only citation provided for the “political alliance” described in the task force report.